Monday, March 07, 2005

clerical dress, hmmmm....

last night we had a confirmation service at St Aldates, the mother church of hOME. whenever the bishop comes one of the clergy at the church acts as his chaplain for the evening - carrying his crook, holding his service sheet for him to read from, and generally making sure he's ok. last night it was my turn. here's a pic. apologies for the poor quality of the was taken on my phone in poor light.
a number of people made the usual jibes about the whole dressing up thing. understandably so. it doesn't happen very often so it's always a bit of a novelty for people, and also for me i guess. people assumed that i must have hated it but actually i found it to be quite a privilege. the Bishop of Oxford has been kind to me and it was great to be able to do a little something for him. it did make me wonder about the whole 'robes' thing though. i can definitely see two sides to it. a good friend of mine suggested to me years ago that as soon as you put a dog collar on you lose your 'annointing' (not language i would use but you know what he meant, i'm sure). his point was that Jesus never appealed to an office as the source of his power - he was an ordinary man filled with the power of God. the donning of clerical gear appeals to a sense of status in order to gain power. i have a certain sympathy with that outlook.
on the other hand, last night i reflected on the fact that me wearing robes said something about what was important to me without me having to use words. the clothes expressed something of who i was - not in a "do you know who I am?" sort of way, but more to do with saying something about a vocation that God has called me to. we so often rely on words to express those things. wearing robes is a way of speaking about what is important in a visual rather than a verbal way.
I guess another reason we DON'T wear robes (apart from wanting to obliterate the clergy/laity divide - and i'm all for the abolition of the laity) is to somehow be 'culturally relevant'.It would seem that the mighty Eugene Peterson, for one, is dead against the idea of the pursuit of cultural relevance. I read him on the subject - from an interview in Christianity Today - at this blog. Here's a little snippet from Eugene to whet your appetite:

"I think relevance is a crock. I don't think people care a whole lot about what kind of music you have or how you shape the service. They want a place where God is taken seriously, where they're taken seriously, where there is no manipulation of their emotions or their consumer needs."

I think Eugene's got a point but for me what we're about is not primarily about relevance. I've blogged previously about how i think cultural relevance doesn't make sense if the aim is to be incarnational (you don't need to tell a Japanese person living in Japan to try to be relevant to their culture). any other comments?

Originally uploaded by Matt Rees.


Peter O said...

I for one actually thought you looked damn good - different, but good. My only gripe would be that you wore a cassock while Harries wore an Alb - you kinda clashed!!!

The Peterson stuff is really good. The bits on relevance that you quoted are a real challenge - I'm more and more convinced that the way that we do church should be different to the rest of the world because it points to something beyond the world (and yet integral to it). So I'm all for different cultural expressions of orthodoxy (as Cranmer would have been) but dead set against just trying to do what the world does.

When am I going to get to chat to you about Lifeskills?

Anonymous said...

I am sure the gospel is relevant to people - irrespective of culture. Surely the question comes over making the local church relevant - I think being accessible to a particular culture is part of this. Didn't Peterson do this with The Message - make scripture more accessible to a particular culture - it wasn't about changing the content of the message. The other reason we probably talk about this alot is how we organise what "church looks like" is probably easier to discuss and deal with (and blame), than actually addressing the bigger challenge of being a genuinely God-centred, loving, accepting, gracious, spirit filled community of believers who want the rest of the world affected by this. In my experience when the Kingdom of God is manifested in relationships or through miracles people take notice - culturally relevant or not.